Feasibility of removing prep courses by Veysel Ayhan*

September 17, 2012, Monday/ 17:59:00

This year, close to 2 million students took the Undergraduate Placement Examination (LYS). Only 50,000 of them achieved a good score sufficient to enroll in a popular department of a good university.

In 2011, 11,090 students wanted to attend İstanbul University’s faculty of law. However, the quota of that faculty is 100 students, meaning over 90 percent of these students were not admitted to the course.

The student quota of İstanbul University’s faculty of medicine is 410, but 3,011 students have applied to enter this department. There is no balance between supply and demand. Thus, the placement examination is unavoidable. And if there is an exam, there is preparation. Everywhere in the world, including in European countries and the US, there are prep courses. There is no system elsewhere in the world with no preparation courses to assist students with exams. So would it be possible to design a university entrance system with no examination, based solely on students’ high school grades?

Is there equality of opportunity in education between the high schools in big cities and high schools in rural areas, many of which struggle with a lack of sufficient teaching staff? You cannot compare them, and yet in terms of university applications their student report cards would be the same. But while one student with a certain score cannot solve an equation with two unknowns, another with the same score can solve complex integral equations.

This year, the top students from 500 schools did not achieve high enough results in the LYS to enroll at a university, which gives a good indication of the current level of the Turkish education system. This happens every year. If high school grades were the only criterion for enrolling in a university, these students would be able to enter good universities.

If students were well educated by their schools, they would have no need to attend prep courses. If public schools offered a good education, parents would not need to send their children to private schools -- keeping in mind, of course, that there are some principals and teachers working with dedication to help their students reach their full potential.

Claims that the LYS questions are prepared in line with the curriculum of preparation courses, rather than with the curriculum of regular schools, is wrong. The only thing that prep course providers consider in planning their curriculum is the LYS, and this is done according to information released by the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM). Moreover, inspectors from the Ministry of Education, who never inspect public schools, strictly examine the curriculum of the schools providing prep courses, which are entirely under the Ministry of Education’s control.

Is there a need for more private schools? In Turkey, there are 3,010 preparation course providers, and only 263 of them meet Ministry of Education standards for serving as private schools. If plans to abolish them come into force, what will happen to the remaining 2,837.

Private school associations note that the occupancy rate of private schools is 50 percent of capacity, indicating that there is no need for a greater number. Let’s say some of these preparation course providers are turned into private schools with state subsidies. There will then be two types of private schools: state-backed schools and straight private schools. The education minister also admitted that no feasibility study has been conducted by the ministry on this issue. It must then be asked whether they will conduct such a study following the abolishment of the preparation courses. They may then realize that in practice it is impossible to transform prep course providers into private schools.

The preparation course providers offer supplementary classes to assist students not only in high school and LYS exams but also in the State Personnel Examination (KPSS). Of course, the state conducts an examination as part of its hiring procedure, which is the most effective way to narrow the field of applicants. Now, should the preparation courses for KPSS preparation be removed, too? Why doesn’t the state select employees based on their university grades? The ÖSYM also conducts a Medical Specialty Exam (TUS), and who would claim that this is irrational? There are preparation courses for this exam as well. Will these preparation courses be removed, too? What will happen if the state designs a new system based on the grades of applicants from their secondary education? These are some possible repercussions if preparation course providers are forced to shut down:

(1) 60,000 qualified teachers will lose their jobs. Their families and children will be victimized.

(2) Close to 40,000 people working for preparation course providers as IT specialists, office and cleaning staff and as security guards will be made unemployed.

(3) If the LYS is not abolished, students will seek out tutors for private lessons. Parents who cannot afford these private lessons for their children may send their children to illegal preparation courses, and the industry will become an informal economic sector with high profits.

(4) The state will have to say goodbye to the value-added tax (VAT) income and corporate tax that it collects from the sector. Additionally, the state will also lose nearly 100,000 insurance premiums paid by employers.

(5) If the preparation courses are closed down, good universities may not trust the Ministry of Education’s university entrance examination system and could decide to hold their own entrance examinations, which was the case in the 1960s.

The preparation course providers could be closed down only if there were no need for them. There are three requirements for bringing about this state of affairs: First, all teachers working in public schools should be as qualified as the prep course teachers; second, the government should provide enough financial incentive for the teachers working at public schools to allow them to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities and, third, the government should reduce class sizes in schools.

If the government does these things, prep courses will automatically decline in popularity. Otherwise, another informal economic sector yielding high profits will emerge, adding another problem to Turkey’s list.

*Veysel Ayhan is a managing editor of the Zaman daily.

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